Facing my fears: my first venture into public speaking

Last night saw me facing one of my fears and stepping way outside my comfort zone in my first attempt at public speaking. It’s another one to tick off my list of New Year’s Resolutions and I definitely feel a sense of achievement from having done this.

The event I was speaking at was a local networking event for people in the digital industry – OxonDigital. I gave a talk about link building and covered a range of link building techniques that businesses can use to strengthen their websites. The material I covered was all to do with the things I do in the day-to-day course of my job, and with an audience of about 50 people, it was a good introduction to public speaking.

I had obviously given presentations before – to clients, fellow students at university, colleagues and so forth – but never to a group of this size and in this kind of setting. I was really nervous beforehand, but I worked hard to overcome nerves and hope that I came across as more confident than I actually was! I had lots of lovely comments on Twitter after the event, so it seems to have gone down well with the audience, which is a massive relief!

I won’t say “I don’t know what I was so worried about”, because that would be untrue. I know exactly what I was worried about: making a fool of myself, crumbling under pressure, not speaking coherently. It was a big deal for me – that’s why it was one of my New Year’s Resolutions, because it was something I felt would benefit both my personal and professional development. I think it’s always good to challenge oneself by placing oneself in unfamiliar and maybe even scary situations.

So what did I think of the actual experience of public speaking? A lot of people had told me that I would get a massive adrenaline rush after the talk and that I’d want to do lots more of it. I didn’t really experience this, however. I’m glad that I did it – I’m glad to have confronted one of my fears, and glad to have been given the opportunity to raise my profile in the local digital community. It wasn’t as scary as I was expecting and I have no doubt that I could now get up and speak in front of big groups again without a problem. But I wouldn’t say that it gave me a massive thrill or adrenaline rush – just a feeling of satisfaction, increased confidence and yet more professional experience under my belt.

If you’re interested, here are the slides from my presentation:

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What my driving licence means to me!

If you follow me on Twitter and/or are friends with me on Facebook and/or are connected with me on LinkedIn, today’s excellent news can hardly have escaped your notice: I have finally passed my driving test! Well, I say finally – I’ve only been learning since September and hadn’t been doing much practice at all until last month. It was the second time I’d taken the test, the first one having gone pretty badly (16 minors and 3 majors – ouch). So for this one, I did everything differently:  I’d practiced loads, I wore smart clothes to make me feel more confident, I took the test in my own car, brought my mum along with me rather than my instructor, and took a much more relaxed approach to the whole thing. And it paid off – the test went really, really well, and I passed with just five minors! Yay! And the examiner was absolutely lovely, so I let him keep the interior mirror that I’d bought for the purposes of the test (he wanted it, you understand, it wasn’t just a rubbish gift!).

Massive thanks must go to the lovely Matt, who devoted loads of time to helping me with driving practice and was an amazing, patient and encouraging teacher; and also to my mum, who drove all the way over from Wiltshire and back several times just so that I could get extra driving practice in. I definitely couldn’t have done it without them!

As anyone who knows me knows, passing my test was a massive deal for me. It wasn’t just about escaping the nightmare commute (more on that below) – it was about growing up. I’m an extremely independent person and don’t like relying on anybody for anything, and now that I have my licence – just a month before my 26th birthday – I’m now fully independent and I feel like a proper adult at last.

I also couldn’t be happier that I’m now able to escape the nightmare of commuting by public transport. Just to give you an idea, this is how my commute was before today, assuming everything was on time (by no means a given):

6.50am – get up and get ready to go to work.
7.30am – leave the house and walk 15 mins down to the station (sometimes in pouring rain and strong winds!).
7.49am – get on the train, if it’s on time.
8.12am – get off the train, if it’s on time. Hang round waiting for the bus.
8.25am – get on the bus, if it’s on time. If the train wasn’t on time, run frantically to the bus or hang round until 8.47am for the next one.
9am – arrive at work, if the bus is on time. Have short or no lunchbreak to allow me to leave work early for the bus back to the station.
5.10pm – switch off computer, hang round waiting for the bus.
5.17pm – get on the bus, if it’s on time.
5.50pm – arrive at the station. Hang round for half an hour waiting for the train.
6.17pm – get on the train, if it’s on time.
6.40pm – arrive in village. Walk home, which is steep uphill most of the way.
6.55pm – get home.

Nightmare, huh? And that’s without even mentioning the numerous things that would go wrong several times a week with the train and/or bus. Now my commute is reduced to a 40 minute car journey each way and it’s door to door, with no annoying people having stupid conversations, no surly bus drivers making me wait in the cold while they have a fag, and no stupid excuses for delays from First Great Western.

Pleased as Punch! I’ve just completed my first solo drive, to Waitrose, and now I have a nice meal to celebrate today’s events. *opens bottle of red*

A New Year, a New Blog

So I’ve decided to start a new personal blog. Passionate though I am about the Eternal City, I do in fact have a diverse range of other interests which I’d love to write about, but which Rachel’s Rome Writings is not suitable for. So this blog is where I will be writing about non-Rome-related interests, thoughts, travels, hobbies, book reviews and so on and so forth. I haven’t had time to do much with its appearance or optimisation at the moment, so it’s likely to evolve a bit in the near future.

I thought I’d start by sharing my goals for 2012. I know it’s February, but I’m afraid I’ve only just got round to setting up this blog despite having been meaning to for ages! I always ask people what their New Year’s Resolutions are, and most people tell me that they don’t bother to make them because they won’t stick to them. That’s exactly why I set myself goals for the year rather than making resolutions to stop bad habits or other such vague and optimistically virtuous sentiments. I have these on a chalk board in my kitchen so that I am continually reminded of them throughout the year. In no particular order (apart from the first one!):

1. Pass my driving test
This is my absolute number one priority for this year. I’ve already taken the test once, so statistically, my chances of passing second time are higher. I also have the massive incentive of a nightmare commute to spur me on to achieve this goal, but the fact that I absolutely love driving is half the battle won, I feel.

2. Become fully Google Analytics and AdWords qualified
As an SEO professional, it’s high time I gained these qualifications and I’m currently studying the Google Conversion University’s helpful series of videos. I’m not naturally a numbers kind of person, but I’m working hard to overcome this so that I can operate more effectively in a business environment without getting stressed!

3. Speak at some SEO events
Though I was fine giving presentations at university, and I’ve spent most of my life performing in orchestras and other music groups, I’ve never spoken in front of a large audience and it’s waaaay outside my comfort zone. So this is the year that I overcome that terrifying challenge and start becoming involved in this important side of the industry I work in, whilst developing my confidence in speaking in public.

4. Cook more new recipes
In 2011 I discovered that I love baking and am very good at it (so modest, too). I made loads of cakes, and this year I’m extending my culinary adventurousness to cooking in general. Luckily I have a willing guinea pig in the lovely Matt. My greatest discovery this year so far is how to make Thai green curry, which is so yummy but surprisingly easy to make.

5. Join a choir
I’ve been singing in choirs since the tender age of 15 and managed one when I was at uni. But I haven’t sung regularly since then, and when I finally get my driving licence I’ll be able to do so. I’ll be joining a choir in a neighbouring town later this year, beginning with Mozart’s Requiem – my all-time favourite piece of music, and one that I’ve performed with three different choirs over the years, and cannot wait to sing again!

6. Try and get back into gliding
At university I was at the gliding club every week, and was almost at the level where I could fly solo when I was struck down by illness and an even more massive workload than usual (my dissertation). Now that I’m a graduate I can’t really afford it, but the lovely Matt bought me a gliding lesson for Christmas which I intend to take when the weather is warmer (more thermals = longer flight). Gliding is the cheapest way of flying, and if it’s at all affordable then I will be looking to start going regularly again. One of my lifetime ambitions is to get a private pilot’s licence, and learning in a glider first is a much cheaper way of going about it.

So those are mine… what are yours?